We were pootling along in the car this morning when an ad on the radio caught my ear. I couldn’t quite believe it, but someone was singing the theme tune to Skippy the Bush Kangeroo. You know how it goes, ‘Skipppppy, Skippppppy, Skiiiipppyyy the Bush Kangeroooooo.’
Instantly, I was catapulted back into the past, when my entire attention would be pinned on the (tiny, black and white) screen, upon which an earnest Australian doctor/pilot would be saying something like, ‘What’s that, Skippy? You say that three children and their teacher are stuck in the mine shaft back on the billabong road? And they’ve been there for four hours? And one of them has a broken leg?’
Even at the time, I did notice that the apparently loquacious Skippy was quite unresponsive. But he was a kangeroo! And therefore both irresistibly cute, and exotically glamorous. I loved it. I also loved things like Daktari, which I think was set in South Africa, and the French (or possibly Swiss) Belle and Sebastian. Last weekend in France, I was startled to see posters for a new film version of Belle and Sebastian up everywhere. I’d never really known whether Belle was the little child or the enormous dog when I used to watch it, so I was quite excited at the thought of finding out. Alas, all the posters seemed to feature different children, some clearly boys and some undecided, so it’s all still a puzzle. I’m not sure it will be released in the UK so I may never know.
Come to think of it, a lot of the programmes I used to watch were quite mysterious. I never really knew what to expect when the telly was on, as I had no idea about TV scheduling, or probably the days of the week either. There were some shows, like The Flashing Blade, which appeared only once in a blue moon, enough to beguile me with its fabulous theme tune at the beginning and end (“you’ve got to fight for what you want, if what you want is right,”) and then bore me with incomprehensible swordfighting in the middle – who was fighting who? And why? Then there was Casey Jones, a-steamin and a-rollin, at the wheel of the Cannonball Express. Did he ever get off the train and have adventures? I haven’t a clue, I just remember the footage of someone shovelling coal into a fire, and the clouds of steam as he pulled the whistle. Then there was a cartoon called Marine Boy that I particularly loved, as there was a girl heroine who was a brilliant swimmer, whereas Marine Boy could only go underwater with his special chewing gum. I used to wait and wait for that one to turn up, but it rarely did.
These days, children practically need a degree in scheduling to cram in all the shows they like. They know their way around the remotes, they know what time everything starts and they know how to find it all on catch-up if they do miss anything. And the dedicated kids’ channels pump stuff out all day long. I’m sure all this efficiency will stand them in good stead for later life. But they will never be surprised by Casey Jones, as I was.
I was thrilled, the other day, to read that the Clangers are coming back. They were on when I was a bit older, so things were slightly less hit and miss. Still, I don’t believe I ever saw any episode other than the one where the soup dragon is making the soup. I explained to Child One and Two that the reappearance of the Clangers, and the Wombles and Peter Rabbit, was very exciting indeed. ‘So,’ said Child One. ‘They made these creatures out of socks, and they eat soup on the moon. And you want to watch that again?’
I don’t think they’ve got over the time when I showed them a video of Mr Benn, another of my childish passions. If you remember, he would go to the fancy dress shop and exit from the changing room into another world. Very Narnia, and very beguiling as an idea. I’m afraid it hasn’t aged well. Just watching Mr Benn walking down the street seemed to take about half an hour and greeting the shopkeeper was interminable. Either I had a very long attention span as a child or I was used to the pace being slow and often incomprehensible, thanks to my devotion to watching random episodes of badly dubbed, cheap foreign imports.